Babylon 5 (1994–1998)
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There are six Babylon 5 movies, five of which have an impact on the overall story. "The Gathering" is the series pilot; it was filmed and aired before production on the actual show began. As such, it should be viewed first. "Thirdspace" takes place sometime around the ninth or tenth episode of season four, while "River of Souls" fits in between the season five episodes "Objects at Rest" and "Sleeping in Light." Finally, "A Call to Arms" also takes place between these episodes, but should generally be viewed after finishing the series.
"In the Beginning" is a special case. As a prequel, it takes place before any of the events depicted in the series. However, it is very heavy in spoilers, and thus should not be viewed until after the first three seasons.
"The Legend of the Rangers" is the sixth movie; it has little effect on the Babylon 5 timeline and is not a fan favorite. Edit (Coming Soon)
No, the departure of the character of Commander Sinclair was not part of Straczynski's original plan for the series. However during the filming of the first season, actor Michael O'Hare, who played Sinclair, was battling a case of mental illness and began suffering from paranoid delusions. O'Hare found it increasingly difficult to play Sinclair, a character who was suffering from mental problems of his own, and O'Hare's illness caused conflicts with some of the other cast and crew. Straczynski offered to suspend production of the show so that O'Hare could receive treatment but O'Hare did not want the livelihoods or the other cast and crew upended due to his illness. He and Straczynski ultimately decided to write Sinclair out of the show so that O'Hare could receive treatment. O'Hare would return to the show for the two part episode "War Without End" in the third season. In order to protect O'Hare's career from any possible damage, Straczynski kept quiet about the reason for the actor's departure until after O'Hare's death in 2012.
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The details of what happened are still in dispute. Claudia Christian and J Michael Strazynski claim somewhat different details. However, what is clear is that there was some kind of dispute, or mix up, with the contracts which were offered to the cast for season five. Claudia Christian ended up not having signed a new contract and so was not on the show for season five.
As for her not being credited in the season four finale but being credited in the series finale that has to do with the tentative nature of season five. When they were producing season four, the creators of Babylon 5 were not sure whether the show would be picked up by its distributor for a fifth season. They decided to write and film the series finale as part of season four just in case the show got cancelled and they had to wrap things up. When the show was picked up for a final season, the series finale "Sleeping in Light", was moved back to the end of season five. A new finale "Deconstruction of Falling Stars" was made to wrap up season four. However, when Claudia Christian departed the show this caused some problems. She had appeared in "Sleeping in Light" but not in "Deconstruction of Falling Stars". Crediting her for both episodes would have required paying her for an additional episode (credited actors get paid even for episodes in which they do not appear). So Christian's credit was removed from the season four finale but added to the season five finale. Edit (Coming Soon)
Babylon 5 had always been planned as a five season story arc. The central event was going to be the Shadow War, an epochal battle between the "forces of light" and the mysterious and sinister race "The Shadows". Much of the first two and a half seasons deals with the developing threat of the Shadows and the coming of the Shadow War. Yet when the war does happen it seems to end rather quickly, in early season four. The reason for this has to do with the economic realities which Babylon 5 was facing. For its first two seasons, B5 was distributed in syndication by PTEN, the "Prime Time Entertainment Network" which was originally hoped would become a fifth major network by selling programming to local networks. PTEN never really took off however (as partly evidenced by the fact that, despite the name, their shows usually aired well outside of primetime) and ended up as mostly a syndication service for a few action/adventure and scifi shows such as B5 and KungFu: The Legend Continues. By 1996, when Babylon 5 was entering its fifth season, the network was on its last legs as several of its backers had dropped out. Because of this, Babylon 5 was unsure if it would be renewed for a fifth season.
Given the uncertain future of the show, JMS and the creators decided to wrap up the central storyline earlier than they had originally planned. This meant ending the Shadow War after a relatively few episodes and then resolving the internal conflicts with Earthgov which has been a theme for most of the previous season. They also filmed the episode "Sleeping in Light", always intended as the series finale, as part of the season four production schedule. However, the show was eventually picked up for its final season by the TNT network. The producers filmed a new finale for season four and moved Sleeping In Light to the end of season five. The uncertain future of the show, and the resolution of many of the central plotlines of the previous seasons, meant that new storylines needed to be developed for season five. These storylines mostly dealt with cohorts of the Shadows who were now using leftover Shadow technology in their own bid for power, as well as the development of a colony of rogue telepaths on Babylon 5 and the first year of Sheridan's reign as President. However, while some of these storylines could be seen as logical concluding acts of existing storylines, they had not, in general, been given the rigorous buildup that storylines such as the Shadow War, the Centauri-Narn War, or the Earthgov civil war, had been given, and many fans felt that they were tacked on. Additionally, the effort to resolve the major storylines in case season four ended up being the show's last, left many fans feeling that the actual action of the Shadow War, which the show had been building to for three years, was somewhat rushed. Indeed, there is only one major on-screen battle of the war shown. The show itself would later poke fun at the rushed nature of the plotline's resolution when in one episode the characters encounter some people from Earth who are totally unaware that a major galactic war had occurred in the previous year. Edit (Coming Soon)
The Gathering was the two hour pilot movie for Babylon 5. Produced and aired before the regular series started it sets up the station and the main characters and deals with an attempted assassination of Vorlon Ambassador Kosh. While the movie is entertaining and worth watching, the series is completely understandable without it. A few references are occasionally made to the events in it, notably when Lyta Alexander returns to Babylon 5, having been influenced by the events of the pilot, but if you skip The Gathering you will still be able to understand and enjoy the series Edit (Coming Soon)
Ultimately this will never be known. Straczynski himself, and many Babylon 5 fans believe that Deep Space Nine plagiarized several story elements from Babylon 5. While Deep Space Nine premiered shortly before B5, the latter had been in pre-production for years and the B5 television movie was finished before Deep Space Nine began filming.
Straczynski maintains that Paramount, the studio which produced Deep Space Nine was aware of Babylon 5 as early as 1989. He claims that when he was shopping B5 around to various studios he gave Paramount a series bible as well as plot breakdowns for the first season of the show and other background materials. He maintains that Paramount used these materials to help create Deep Space Nine. Straczynski says that he declined to sue in order to put the past behind them and allow both shows to go forward without the taint of a legal struggle.
Several similarities have been noticed between the two although whether these are the result of active plagiarism on the part of Paramount/Deep Space Nine, or merely two shows tapping into a similar zeitgeist is unclear. Among the similarities are:
-Babylon 5 involves a space station beside an artificial hyperspace jumpgate. Deep Space Nine involves a space station beside an artificial wormhole. -Both shows had human captains who would end up becoming figures of religious significance to a local race. Benjamin Sisko would become the Bajoran Emissary while Jeffrey Sinclair would become Valen. -Both shows involved humans working alongside a recent enemy race: the Minbari in Babylon 5 and the Klingons in Deep Space Nine (although the friendly nature of the Klingons was established in Star Trek: The Next Generation). -Both shows would introduce a small, powerful, first of its kind warship at similar points in their third season: The Defiant on Deep Space Nine and the White Star on Babylon 5. -Both shows featured female seconds in command who were hot tempered: Kira Nerys on Deep Space Nine and Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5. -Both shows featured doctors who had strained relations with their fathers and who were hiding secrets: Julian Bashir's genetic modification on Deep Space Nine and Stephen Franklin's involvement with the underground and his stim addiction on Babylon 5. -Both shows involved combat against mysterious foes who seemed much more powerful than the protagonists: The Dominion on Deep Space Nine and the Shadows on Babylon 5. -In addition there are several names which appear in both shows such as Lyta/Leeta and Dukhat/Dukat.. There were also "G'kar"s on both shows. -Another strange coincidence is that two veterans of "West Side Story" appeared on both shows....Richard Beymer on "Deep Spave Nine" (as the other G'Kar, oddly enough) and Russ Tamblyn on "Babylon 5"! Edit (Coming Soon)
"The Memory of Shadows" is a theatrical motion picture which has not been, and will likely not be, produced. The first draft of the script is largely written, but the group who optioned the movie rights and commissioned the script was ultimately unable to secure the necessary funding. Straczynski has not revealed the full details of the movie's plot, except to say that it involves the consequences of leftover Shadowtech. Edit (Coming Soon)
Straczynski planned in detail the entire story arc of Babylon 5 ahead of time. However, in order to allow for the possibility that actors might leave the show for any number of common reasons, he created a "trapdoor" for every major character, which would allow the story to continue without him or her. These trapdoors were essentially other characters which could take their place for story purposes.
Following is a list of all the trapdoors that Straczynski employed over the course of the series (the format is Original Character/Replacement Character):
Dr. Benjamin Kyle/Dr. Stephen Franklin - Dr. Kyle was B5's medical chief of staff in "The Gathering;" the actor did not return, and Dr. Franklin arrived in the second episode of season 1 to take his place. Dr. Kyle was transferred to Earth, presumably due to his contact with an unsuited Vorlon.
Lt. Commander Laurel Takashima/Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova - Babylon 5's original XO was a traitorous woman named Takashima. Once again, the actor did not return to film the series. Ivanova would have appeared anyway as Takashima's underling and eventual replacement. When Takashima could not appear in the series, Ivanova took the role immediately instead.
Lyta Alexander/Talia Winters - Babylon 5's resident telepath was, at the beginning, a fairly nonessential character. So when the actress portraying Lyta didn't return to film the series, replacing her with another telepath was a simple matter.
Commander Jeffrey Sinclair/Captain John Sheridan - For the reasons stated above, Sinclair left the series after the first season. Captain Sheridan arrived to take command of Babylon 5.
Talia Winters/Lyta Alexander - In an ironic twist, the character who replaced Lyta could not return for the third season, and the two were switched once again. This time, the trapdoor was slightly more complex, as Talia had received a gift from a super-powerful telepath that would ultimately lead to a dramatic rise in her abilities. To substitute, Lyta was altered by the Vorlons to produce a similar gain in power.
Captain Susan Ivanova/Captain Elizabeth Lochley - Due to various disputes, Claudia Christian did not return to film the fifth season, and her character of Ivanova had to be written out. Since Ivanova would have taken command of Babylon 5 in the fifth season, Captain Lochley was introduced as the station's new CO instead. Edit (Coming Soon)
An ongoing series with as heavy a story arc as Babylon 5 almost guarantees that the final product will look different from what was originally envisioned. In addition to normal creative changes, the real life departures of actors can cause plot changes on the show. As mentioned above, Straczynski wrote "trap doors" for the various characters, which were plot points which would allow them to be written out of the show. Often in retrospect the "ghosts" of potential plotlines can be seen among the earlier episodes. Among the changes which occurred over the course of the show were:
-The earliest change was casting. Between the B5 tv movie and the first season most of the actors playing human characters left the show. Rather than recasting the characters, Straczynski opted to create new ones, often with very similar characteristics. Dr Benjamin Kyle was replaced by Stephen Franklin, Lyta Alexander was replaced by Talia Winters, Laurel Takashima, was replaced by Susan Ivanova. Among the plot points which would later be taken up by other characters was stim addiction. In the pilot movie there are several references to Dr Kyle working too hard and too long, what would eventually lead Dr Franklin to use stims.
-Perhaps most significant was the departure of Michael O'Hare and the replacement of Jeffrey Sinclair with John Sheridan. Originally Sinclair was supposed to last for the whole series and was meant to both lead the battle against the Shadows as well as becoming Valen. Straczynski decided that this was two much for one character, a feeling which meshed nicely with O'Hare's desire t depart the show, and the role of the Captain was recast. John Sheridan would go on to fight the shadows while Jeffrey Sinclair would become Valen. Vestiges of this unified plotline can be seen in the show: one is Catherine Sakai, Sinclair's on-again-off-again love interest who, at the end of season one was sent on a mission to the galactic rim. When Sheridan was introduced it was revealed that his wife had apparently died on a mission to the rim. If Sinclair had stayed on Sakai would have fulfilled the role ultimately played by Anna Sheridan. Similarly when Captain Sheridan ultimately "dies" he dematerializes into energy, an effect which would likely have led to his becoming Valen.
-Another altered plotline was that of the "traitor." Babylon 5 was always supposed to have a traitor among her crew who was loyal to sinister elements of EarthGov, rather than to the station. Originally this was supposed to be Laruel Takashima. When she left the show the plotline was transfered to Susan Ivanova. However, when the actress who played Talia Winters wanted to leave the show the plotline was used to write Talia out.
-In the episode BSquared the crew learns that the previous station, Babylon 4, has been moving through time. Originally it was explained that a mysterious figure known as "The One" was bringing Babylon 4 forward through time in order to serve as a base. During the episode the crew experiences flashes from their past and future. During one of these, Captain Sinclair sees Garibaldi, apparently fighting to the death against an unseen foe who is destroying Babylon 5. One of the final scenes reveals that "The One" is in fact Jeffrey Sinclair, although he appears quite a bit older. Eventually the mystery was explained in season three when Sinclair brought the station forward a few years in time, becoming artificially older in the process, before travelling back in time with it to the first shadow war. Originally, however, it seems clear that the station was being brought forward in time to serve as base after Babylon 5 was destroyed by the shadows. The Sinclair shown in the episode was from decades in the future near the end of his life when he would eventually become Valen.
-As originally conceived, Delenn was supposed to be an androgynous character, played by an actress but with her voice altered to sound masculine. Her transformation in season two would involve not only become more human but also becoming female. This idea was scrapped before filming began although Delenn's makeup became more human between the pilot movie and the series.
-Originally Straczynski intended for Londo to assassinate Cartagia. When he was writing Cartagia's death scene, however, he decided that it would be better for Vir to do it.
-At the end of season four Claudia Christian, who plays Ivanova, departed due to contractual disputes. She was written out of the show as having taken over a new class of starship. In her place a new character named Elizabeth Lochley was written in to take command of Babylon 5, and an important story arc for season five involved Lyta Alexander's romance with the leader of a doomed colony of telepaths on the station. If Ivanova had stayed on she would have assumed command of the station and been involved in a romance with the telepathic leader.
-In the plotline involving the human civil war the character of General Hague was always intended to lead the rebel forces against EarthGov. However when the time came for the plotline to mature the actor who played Hague was not available so his character was killed off camera. Edit (Coming Soon)